Mars Arizona

Hello Cruel World

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On their third album, Mars Arizona -- the duo of singer, guitarist, and songwriter Nicole Storto and singer, guitarist, pianist, and songwriter Paul Knowles -- complete their transformation into a cosmic country band marked by Knowles' twang-heavy guitar work and Storto's bluesy, tear-stained vocals. Guest David Grisman adds his tasteful mandolin to the opener, "Dirty Town," a forlorn song of death and dissolution with a poetic, surrealistic lyric. Pedal steel and Dobro ace Al Perkins (Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band) and San Francisco Bay Area classical/country fiddler Alisa Rose are also along for the ride down this desolate stretch of highway. "Earth" laments the ecological disaster we're courting, with Knowles playing funereal Southern gospel piano while Storto sings the bleak lyric and Rose supplies bluesy, moaning fiddle. "Wait for the River" is another tune that combines personal and natural disasters in a noxious cocktail. The covers give their usual Mars AZ twists, including a Marc Bolan tune from his acoustic Tyrannosaurus Rex years, "By the Light of a Magical Moon," played in a country two-step rhythm highlighted by Perkins' pedal steel and crackling acoustic lead guitar byAndon Davis, and a somber "Blue Kentucky Girl" with Knowles supplying some tasty Dobro fills. The African-American folk song "In the Pines" features the duo's raw wordless harmonies, perfect to suggest the pain of infidelity hinted at in the lyric, while Neil Young's "Time Fades Away" is given an apocalyptic Bakersfield-style stomp with the duo's desperate harmonies and Knowles' psychedelic country guitar growling in the background.

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